West Virginia Joins States Fighting Bovada, Sends Illegal Site Owner ‘Cease and Desist’ Letter

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Fighting Bovada is an effort more states are joining, with West Virginia adding its name to the list of gaming regulators sending “cease and desist” letters to the illegal offshore gambling site’s owner. On July 3, a West Virginia Lottery official’s office confirmed to Bonus that it sent the letter to Harp Media.

Colorado and Michigan gaming regulators have already done so. They sent “cease and desist” letters threatening legal action if Bovada didn’t shut down in their states. On June 20, Bonus saw that Bovada had updated its Terms of Service to show Colorado and Michigan had joined its list of “restricted” states. Both remained on the list as of July 4.

The other states already listed as off-limits to bettors are the following:

  • Delaware
  • Maryland
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York

Bovada is illegal in all US states, but the letters sent on May 29 by Michigan and June 4 by Colorado emphasize that the online casino, poker, horse racing, and sports betting site violates state-specific criminal and civil laws.

On June 12, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) began exploring a similar way of putting Bovada on notice.

However, on June 20, Thomas Mills, MGC communications division chief, told Bonus the commission decided to refer the matter to Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell‘s office.

Mills told Bonus on June 20:

Commissioners asked legal counsel to begin to prepare an update on work with the Commonwealth’s Attorney General office.

On July 3, Mills and representatives of the Colorado and Michigan regulators told Bonus there had been no changes to report in their efforts.

Why West Virginia Is Fighting Bovada

Answering the phone in Lottery Director John A. Myers‘ office on July 3, a spokeswoman told Bonus the West Virginia Lottery also sent a letter to Curaçao-based Harp Media. She said Bonus would need to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain a copy of the correspondence. Bonus submitted the FOIA request to the lottery on July 3.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that states like West Virginia are fighting Bovada because they are concerned about their citizens betting on an illegal gambling site.

However, they also have a bit more at stake. West Virginia online casinos and sportsbooks are legal and comply with the state’s gaming regulations. Bovada doesn’t. So, legal online gambling operators are competing with illegal sites for the same bettors.

A 2022 report by the gambling industry trade group American Gaming Association (AGA) found:

Americans wager an estimated $337.9 billion with illegal iGaming websites, with a loss of $3.9 billion in state tax revenue. With $13.5 billion in estimated revenue, the illegal iGaming market in the U.S. is nearly three times the size of the legal US iGaming market, estimated to be $5 billion in 2022.

With iGaming only legal in six states, nearly half of Americans (48%) that have played online slots or table games in the past year have played with illegal online casinos.

The AGA is defining iGaming as online casino and poker. That type of legal wagering is available in eight states, with Rhode Island launching on March 5, 2024.

The iGaming states include:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware (BetRivers Casino only)
  • Michigan
  • Nevada (online poker only)
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island (Bally Casino only)
  • West Virginia

West Virginia also offers legal sports betting, as do Colorado, Michigan, and Massachusetts. Like West Virginia, Michigan houses legal online casinos and poker rooms.

Dustin Gouker Has a Point

In his Substack publication, The Closing Line, Dustin Gouker writes that states can’t stop the fight against illegal offshore gambling sites with Bovada.

On July 3, the former Catena Media executive named other illegal sites and the affiliate marketers who partner with them.

Bonus is a Catena Media affiliate site that partners with legal online gambling operators.

Gouker opined:

Action against Bovada is just the tip of the iceberg. You can’t stop there if you want to impact the offshore industry meaningfully.

The next step is more C&Ds, and see what the reaction by other offshore operators is. Then you may have started to give the offshore industry writ large a reason to worry.

Myers didn’t respond to an email Bonus sent on July 3 asking about the Harp Media letter and an expanded fight against illegal offshore gambling sites and the affiliate marketers who partner with them.

The Michigan gaming regulator threatened penalties against Bovada’s partners if the site didn’t shut down. The Michigan Gaming Control Board (MGCB) gave Bovada a grace period of 14 days after Harp Media received the cease and desist letter. After that, “advertisers, affiliate marketers, payment processors, and other business partners” might see licensing or legal consequences.

However, that appears not to have happened.

Nor have previous letters to the US Department of Justice (DoJ) from state gaming regulators and federal and state lawmakers resulted in the requested shutdowns of illegal sites BetOnline, Bovada, and MyBookie.

Those efforts began in earnest in 2022.

About the Author

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher is Lead Writer at Bonus, concentrating on online casino coverage. She specializes in breaking news, legislative coverage, and gambling marketing strategy overviews. To reach Heather with a news tip, email [email protected].
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